Jerome "Ro" Brooks is best known for playing the recurring character Michael in Tyler Perry's The Haves and the Have Nots. The wildly popular prime time soap opera, which will be enjoying its fourth season in 2017, brought the 46-year old actor a new level of fame and opportunity. However, Brooks has actually been involved in the movie business since 1993. His first film appearance was as an uncredited extra in Robert Townsend's superhero comedy The Meteor Man. It was the neophyte actor's first time on a professional set... and also a "calling" of sorts. Brooks recalls, "I knew it. I remember thinking, 'This feels so good!' I was treated so well. The actors were treating me like a fellow actor. From that point on, there was no turning back. I was home." He went on to appear in music videos and in many film and TV roles, including Sons of Anarchy and The Wire , which was shot in his hometown of Baltimore. To this day, Brooks looks upon his work as an extra as crucial to his success today... and he's now sharing the lessons he learned with the masses. The actor, who moved to Los Angeles in 2001, has written a pocket guide for aspiring fellow actors, and the title says it all: How to Go from Extra to Actor: The Aspiring Actor's Guide to Stardom. At 33 pages, the book is short, sweet, and to the point... as well as fun to read. It's an invaluable resource for any guy or girl who's thinking about breaking into "the business", with everything from a sample resume to auditioning tips.
In addition to his new role as an author, Ro Brooks is busier than ever with acting. He will be appearing in the upcoming series Now We're Talking, as well as in the forthcoming three-night miniseries The New Edition Movie, which chronicles the ups and downs of the legendary boy band. Brooks took the time to speak to me about his journey to professional acting success, his new book, and, of course, The Haves and the Have Nots.
JR: Greetings from New York. How's life in L.A.? After these last few winters in New York, I wish I lived in California also!
RB: I'm from Baltimore, so we got a lot of the same snow that you guys get. Twenty inches. We got that too! I do not miss that snow or the cold weather!
JR: I hear ya! So, I've read your history. Before you moved to L.A., it looks like you were pretty busy in your hometown of Baltimore. You had a lot going on. What was it like for you to move to the West Coast to pursue your career in acting?
RB: Baltimore was good. I'm a busy guy. I like to keep moving. Baltimore just ran out of projects for me. I did everything Baltimore had to offer in regard to film. Right after I finished my work on The Wire, I came out here in March 2001 to be in a video for R&B singer Syleena Johnson. I played the lead guy in her video. In June that year, I came out here again-- and then stayed. There were a lot of good things going on in Baltimore, you know. I owned a music store and things like that. But I've always been an actor. While doing those things, acting was always my passion... more so than the stores.
JR: And, I also read that you recently returned to Baltimore in June to celebrate your 46th birthday.
JR: How was your homecoming?
RB: We had a busy two weeks. It was my mom's birthday on June 11th. I flew in and surprised her. The first whole seven days while I was there, my publicist set up a tour for me. So I spoke at a lot of schools, including my alma mater. Every time I go home, there are a lot of people to see. The whole week was full: lunch with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and a Mayoral Citation, and the birthday party, and interview after interview. We had a beautiful time. I would never trade that for the world.
JR: Sounds like fun! So, congratulations on your new book, How to Go from Extra To Actor: The Aspiring Actor's Guide to Stardom. I enjoyed reading it. How has the response to the been so far?
RB: It's doing really well. The majority of the readers are aspiring actors, who are the audience I'm trying to reach anyway. They get a lot out of it. I get a lot of comments and a lot of responses after they purchase it. I get a lot of good feedback on what they've learned, and how they "take it with them" now. It's been great. And the sales look good too. It's all about what I learned when I came here to do what I wanted to do... because I know that when I started, I wish I had it.
JR: The book is very no-nonsense. It's just the facts: no B.S, no sugar-coating ...
RB: Yeah! No fluff, nothing! Straight to the point: This is what you need to do to be an effective background performer, and this is what you need to do to transition into the professional acting business. These are the steps you take. This is the template. You need to just tweak it for your own life.
JR: The advice you give is very real, like on Page 28 when you advise the reader that they may be waiting around a lot on a set-- so, bring a book or something else to do! (Laughs)... In other words, be prepared to "hurry up and wait".
RB: "Hurry up and wait"! (Laughs) That's what it is: the hurry-up- and-wait business. You can be on set 12 hours sometimes before it's even your turn to do your scene. But they want to make sure you're there, so that they don't have to look for you... especially if you're in the background. As a professional actor, you're there maybe a few hours prior; but if you're in the background, you're there a lot earlier.
JR: People who are not in the business themselves, or who aren't friends with people in the business, may think that acting is easy. They may believe that just anyone can be an actor. But acting is just like any other profession: You have to network, and you have to talk to people in the business, and you have to make connections. You also may have to take some classes and study your craft to get better.
RB: Yes. It's not easy. Actors make it look easy. When people watch TV, they just see you talking and they think, "That's easy. I can do that!" But it's so much more than just you talking. First, you gotta get hired. There's a lot of guys all going for that same job. You have to get hired after you've studied those lines and you've auditioned. Before that, you have to get somebody to give you that audition. So, you need an agent or a manager. That's a whole other job. Before that, you have to give them a reason to make you a client. So, you need a reel. To get a reel, you need someone to hire you earlier for an independent project, or what have you, to make the reel and submit it to your potential agent or manager. It's a long process. Before that, you need to learn what it is you need to do on that reel. So, there's a bunch of things. You don't get to see the process as a consumer or viewer of the show. You just see the finished product and think, "I can do this." Also, we get a lot of "No"'s in this business. If you can't handle those, then that's another thing you need to worry about: rejection. Rejection and competition. You have to deal with both of those.
JR: In the book, you also write about some of the things that you need to know as an extra, such as the difference between being union and non-union. I've talked with a lot of people who've been in both situations, and what I usually hear is that: If you're non-union and they feed you, you can maybe expect some dry sandwiches and water. That's if they even do feed you. If you're union, you may get a catered lunch.
RB: (Laughs) Right! You might luck out sometimes, but for the most part, you won't get the same meal. So, that's what I'm saying. In the book I wrote about the upsides and the downsides of being a background performer. I wanted to let you know everything so that you do consider what you're going into. I just wanted to put that out there. I don't know if there are any other books written like my book in regard to showing you, and helping you... and, having you detour from the direction that you were going to run into a bunch of things, to actually going into a direction where the world is clear. I don't know if there are many books that do that, but I think it was necessary that I put it out that way, to save aspiring actors money and time and everything. You don't have money at they early stage. You're a "starving artist"! That means a whole lot. When you say you're a starving artist, you're really a starving artist! Literally.
In the book I put a list of a lot of successful artists who came from background work. I put a lot of names in so that people can see that this is the right way to go. I'm not saying "Don't take an acting class", but it's like driving the car versus taking the exam in the classroom. The experience itself of just being on the set as an extra teaches you what you can't learn in a classroom.
JR: In the book, you write about how that's how you started in the business yourself: by being an extra.
RB: Yeah. It starts with being comfortable around people. It's about learning how to be comfortable around celebrities, and stars, and those upper echelon people that you're trying to be. Once you do that, and you do transition into being a professional actor, you're then already used to that environment. You already know what certain things mean. You have the jargon together from being around on set. You start to see the angles now. When you do it it so much, you start to see things that the director sees. Some of this stuff you pick up and you don't even know it, because you're just a sponge. You're there. That's just what happens: Whenever you use certain parts of your talents, something you learned will just jump out, and you had no idea that you picked it up. When you see or hear things enough, it's like a song on the radio. You may hate that song, but it plays so much that you'll find yourself singing the words-- not knowing that you were actually learning the words! That's instinctual; it just happens. Your brain just does what it does.
JR: (Laughs) How true! Well, that would explain why everyone is singing, "Hey, I just met you; and this is crazy, but here's my number, so call me maybe!" (Both laugh) Everyone knows all the words without even realizing it! Not to diss that song, but...
RB: That's just what it is. It's a beautiful thing. I wouldn't trade my early experiences for the world. So when I did transition into being a professional actor, it was really good. I was well received, and I felt like I belonged: that I worked to get here. I think that that's what you look for as an artist. You want to feel like "I made it. This is what I've been working for all my life". And, you want to feel comfortable in that space you built.
JR: Gotcha! So, you have children. If your kids said that they wanted to go into show business, would you encourage them?
RB: Yes. We have four girls. One of my daughters is an actress. She does Disney and Nickelodeon. She's the only who's really interested, out of all of our daughters. She's been doing it since she was 3. She's 17 now. Just being around me, and seeing what I do, and rehearsing, and going to auditions; That stuff rubs off on your kids. I've taken them to events, and different shows, and awards shows. So, it tends to rub off. We are in California, you know. Hollywood! Tinseltown! Whatever they want to do, I'm behind them 150 percent. I've always been that like that. My parents were like that with me: Whatever I chose, it was, "We got your back!"
JR: That's great to hear! So, let's talk about The Haves and the Have Nots...
JR: The show is enormously popular. The way the fans are with the show... Wow! It reminds me of when we were kids-- before you could watch TV on your I-Phone or on Hulu, when you actually had to be home to watch the show the night it was on. It was like, "It's Thursday night! We have to be home for the Cosby Show"! (Laughs)
RB: I remember that. Whatever you'd be doing, you'd drop it to go home and watch that show. We'd drop the basketball in the middle of a shot. "We gotta go home! Cosby's coming on!" (Laughs) Now, it's like, "I can play as long as I want. I'll just TiVo it!"
JR: Yep! The fans of The Haves and the Have Nots are REALLY into it. They know every detail about every episode of the show. And, from what I see, OWN seems to be really supportive of the show and its fans as well. They have clips of the show on YouTube, and OWN itself actually responds to the viewer's comments. The network has a relationship with its fans, which is really great to see.
RB: I'm glad that they do that. For one, The Haves and the Have Nots has been the number one show on OWN since the first day it aired, and it's still the most-watched show on OWN. So, when you have a show that huge, I think that the network should have a relationship with the viewers... because it's the viewers who make it that way. I've always believed that. Viewers, fans... You have to show them some love, man! You have to, because if it wasn't for them, then nothing would happen. The numbers are what everyone cares about. If they're not watching it, then nobody's seeing our show. So, I take my hat off to OWN, because I think they're doing a great thing by responding to their fans.
JR: The show has something else too: It has the characters, and the plots, and fans get really addicted to it.
RB: Whoever I run into: They really, really know what's going on. It's a character-driven show. They know the characters. The story-lines are so realistic. It can be therapeutic to a lot of people. Each person who watches it probably knows someone who was going through what one of the characters was going through. They are so realistic that you can't help but get caught up. The fans cry when a character dies. They go through all of these emotions. But we're like, "Chill! We're just actors. Nobody dies for real. Nobody really hits Hannah!" They really believe it. But it's a great thing to get "lost" in a series like that. And the creators do good at making you wait a whole week or even a whole season to find out what's gonna happen. They're very good at cliffhangers!
JR: Has there been a fellow celebrity who you were really starstruck by? Someone who you really looked up to, or really admired, who you finally met or worked with?
RB: Back in the day, it was Bill Cosby. He was the first one. I met him when I did Meteor Man in 1993. He was at the top of his game. That was a moment for me. In recent years, it's been Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte. I've been a fan of both of them for a long time. I don't get starstruck a lot. But some people you really want to meet, or you really want to work with!
JR: I know the feeling! So, lastly: Anything else you'd like to tell your fans... besides, obviously, to buy the book?
RB: Yes. Buy the book! And, the new season of The Haves and the Have Nots starts in January, so I'll see all of you next year! Also, you can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
JR: Sounds great! Thanks for speaking with me!
You can buy Ro Brooks' How To Go from Extra to Actor: The Aspiring Actor's Guide to Stardom at Brooks' official website www.RoBrooks.com.
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